Kohl conspicuously absent from reunification feast

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The Independent Online

Germany will hold a great feast on Tuesday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of reunification. Dignitaries from around the world will be tucking into wild trout and pheasant terrine at Dresden's royal palace, and raising their glasses to absent friends.

Germany will hold a great feast on Tuesday to celebrate the 10th anniversary of reunification. Dignitaries from around the world will be tucking into wild trout and pheasant terrine at Dresden's royal palace, and raising their glasses to absent friends.

Most notably absent will be Helmut Kohl. For the politician who took centre stage in last year's commemorations of the fall of the Wall, will be watching the bacchanalia on television. He had been invited, but only on condition that he did not utter a word. Mr Kohl declined.

He will have his say, but not quite in the setting he had imagined. Embarrassed by their own treachery, the Christian Democrats are organising a consolation event in Berlin tomorrow, at which Mr Kohl will be provided with a pulpit.

After months of back stabbing, the Christian Democrats are attempting reconciliation. Mr Kohl's sins have not been forgiven, but the party has realised it must move on from its worst sleaze scandal yet.

The first reunion has passed off peacefully. At the Palace of Tears, the building in East Berlin which used to serve as the border control point, Mr Kohl was visibly touched by his successor Angela Merkel's introduction of him as "the Chancellor of German unity, our friend, Helmut Kohl".

He was grateful, but embittered. "You see how I enjoy the fact today that there is no unwelcome person in the hall," he remarked icily. It was, after all, the CDU that had banished him from Dresden, not his political foes in the government.

The host of the Dresden commemoration is Kurt Biedenkopf, the Christian Democrat Prime Minister of Saxony. Years after being exiled to the provinces by the then chancellor, Mr Biedenkopf is evidently still settling accounts.

The majority of Christian Democrats would like to forget Mr Kohl becausehe is better remembered for his book-keeping tricks than for his historic role.

But it is difficult to overlook reunification's chief architect. To this dilemma, the CDU has found a schizophrenic answer. Mr Kohl is to be praised, drawing a discreet veil over everything that happened after 3 October 1990. No one must mention that the slush fund's main purpose was to build up the party in the East.

Peace in the party has thus been bought at the expense of the dignity of the event. And there has been an unusually sharp exchange between the government and opposition over the heroes and villains of the nation's finest hour.

Mr Kohl has never been shy to tell the world that he alone should be thanked for the fall of the Berlin Wall. But at the "Palace of Tears" he came close to accusing the opposition of treason, having "given up - even betrayed - the goal of Germany's unity and freedom", mentioning Gerhard Schröder.

In parliament yesterday, government politicians rebutted the charge. But Chancellor Schröder, contented in anticipation of Tuesday's feast, appeared to take no offence. "The Wall did not fall in Bonn," he reminded his predecessor.

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